Orange tiles stretched away beneath a smudged, cream plaster ceiling to the peeling, red paint and dust-veiled panes of a rattling door.
Matron. He glanced up from the bronze plaque and let a thin, cold smile creep across his face. Our loving mother. A long, pale wand slipped from the sleeve of his grey shirt and he knocked on the door; the dark stone on the slim gold band on his finger clicked against the bronze. I owe this place oblivion.
A stiff, high voice rang out from beyond the red door. ‘Come in, Tom. It’s time to say goodbye.’
Yes it is, matron. Yes. It. Is.
Harry’s eyes snapped open and he released a long sigh into the gloom.
‘Good afternoon, mon Cœur,’ Fleur murmured into his ear, stretching against him. ‘How do you feel?’
He flexed his arms and legs, basking in the ease of movement. ‘Less stiff. Less sore.’
‘You’ve slept for nearly a whole day.’ She swung herself over him and rested her head on his chest, sending silver hair cascading across his ribs. ‘You should be physically fine, now.’
‘Did you get up to anything fun while I was napping?’ Harry asked.
‘I stayed here, of course.’ Fleur buried her face further into his chest and breathed in. ‘Although, I forgot to ward my door, so Gabby’s probably getting another portrait of us made as we speak.’
Harry frowned. ‘Portrait?’
A dark-haired man with green eyes ran his forefinger down the spine of his snake, smiling, frowning, scowling and vanishing in a flash of flame. Harry strained his mind into a thick fog, clawing through it for something more.
‘Harry?’ Fleur’s hair pooled over his chest as she raised her head to stare at him. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I don’t remember a portrait of us,’ he confessed.
Her lips twisted and a soft glint flickered through her blue eyes. ‘Gabby made one of us kissing beneath the willow tree. She gave it to us for Christmas.’
Harry winced and groped for a memory. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered. ‘Can you — can you show it to me? So I remember.’
Fleur pressed her lips to his forehead. ‘Of course, mon Cœur.’ She swung herself off him and plucked her wand from the bedside table, waving it at the ceiling above her bed.
A painting shimmered into view. A watercolour Fleur kissed him beneath swaying green fronds and bright sunshine, her hands in his hair. Harry stared at it until he could almost taste the marzipan on his lips and feel the summer heat. Gabby giggled on her chocolate-stained sofa before the eye of his mind.
‘I remember now,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, it was… out of reach.’
Fleur smiled and covered the portrait back up with a faint shimmer of magic. ‘You remember now, that’s what matters.’ She cocked her head and arched an eyebrow. ‘Do you feel like getting up? Gabby and I have been trying to work out how you returned.’ She smirked. ‘Well, Gabby has, I was busy enjoying the return of my favourite pillow.’
Harry smiled and rolled to the edge of the bed, sitting up. ‘I think so.’ He yawned and stretched. ‘I feel better.’
Fleur reached out and tousled his hair with a soft smile. ‘Much better.’ She curled her fingers in his tufts. ‘I like it like this, it looks very grabable.’
He poked his pyjamas. ‘I don’t suppose…?’
‘It’s my colours or nothing, mon Cœur.’ A broad smirk spread over her lips. ‘I don’t mind which.’
‘Gabby might,’ Harry suggested.
Fleur pouted. ‘She will like it far too much and I will have to listen to more veela harem jokes.’
A flicker of amusement danced through Harry, carried on snatched fragments of half a hundred little veela-themed quips. ‘I remember that,’ he said.
She rolled her eyes. ‘Of course you remember the harem jokes my little sister makes and not the painting of the two of us.’
Harry shrugged. ‘Sorry?’
‘No, you aren’t.’ Fleur’s lower lip extended a little further and Harry wrestled with the desire to kiss it. ‘You encourage her all the time.’
He staggered to his feet and pressed his lips to her pout.
Fleur smirked into their kiss. ‘Even a little scattered and scrambled, it seems you still can’t resist that, mon Amour.’
‘Who could?’ He chuckled. ‘I choose silver and blue, mon Rêve.’
‘Good.’ She apparated them down into the kitchen with a quiet crack. ‘Gabby would’ve spent the rest of the day locked in her room thinking about you if you had chosen the other option.’
Gabby glanced up from a web of scribbled runes and pulled her most innocent face. ‘I would what?’
Fleur turned a flat stare on her sister. ‘You know exactly what I mean, you little harpy.’
Colour blossomed on Gabby’s cheeks, but she grinned. ‘I don’t deny it.’
Harry blinked. ‘Wait what?’
‘Welcome back to your veela harem, mon Cœur,’ Gabby purred. ‘While you were napping, Fleur and I agreed that we would share you.’
‘That doesn’t sound like something Fleur would agree to,’ Harry said, one eye on Fleur’s amused smile.
‘No.’ Gabby sighed. ‘Fleur is terrible at sharing things. I used to have to pull her hair to get a slice of cake, I’d have to outright murder her to get you.’
‘As if you could, little chick.’ Fleur sat Harry down in a chair and slid into his lap. ‘I would toast you to a crisp.’
Gabby giggled. ‘You’re a bad veela sister. You’re supposed to lure me into giving up my innocence to Harry, not stop me.’
Harry grimaced. ‘Don’t you have a boyfriend?’ He studied her face for a moment and a countless number of younger Gabbys smiled and laughed among his thoughts. ‘How long was I… dead?’
Fleur’s fingertips curled into his back. ‘Three hundred and seventy days.’
‘And no, I don’t have a boyfriend,’ Gabby piped up. ‘So if you’re interested in a second, much less jealous and possessive veela girl…?’
‘Ignore her,’ Fleur said. ‘She’s not even interested in that sort of thing.’
‘No.’ Gabby sighed and her expression darkened. ‘Nothing I feel from anyone is the same as what I feel from you two or Maman and Papa. It feels all shallow and cheap.’ She mustered a smile. ‘Still, you’re back now, so I can just bask in the feel of your magic again.’
‘And add more photos to your collection of veela bodice ripper books,’ Fleur muttered.
‘Our collection,’ Gabby retorted. ‘They’re your hand-me-downs.’
Fleur flushed. ‘Did you come up with anything?’
Gabby shook her head. ‘I pieced together the memories we stole from those who caught a glimpse of the piece of magic you cast before you died, Harry.’ She pursed her lips and threw a wary look at Fleur. ‘It didn’t look like something meant to defeat Voldemort.’
Purple runes swirled before Harry’s eyes and a twist of despair rose to strangle his heart. Behind closed eyes, his wand slipped from his hand. Perfect wishes don’t come true.
‘It wasn’t meant to,’ he murmured. ‘I’d already lost. I just—’ he avoided meeting Fleur’s darkening eyes ‘—I was dead, but I wasn’t going to let the emptiness have you, too.’
‘Blood magic,’ she breathed, her eyes huge and dark as pitch. ‘Sacrificial magic.’ Heat shivered off her palms and white feathers slid through the surface of her skin. ‘You chose to die.’
‘But he’s back, Fleur,’ Gabby said. ‘And who knows, if he’d not chosen to die, maybe he wouldn’t have come back.’
Fleur narrowed her eyes and dragged in a deep breath, the feathers slipping away and the heat fading. Harry stifled a sigh of relief.
‘Idiot,’ she muttered in his ear. ‘You’re going to make that up to me, mon Cœur, I promise you. And it will take a lot more than cake.’
Gabby snickered, then tapped her finger on her piece of parchment. ‘An auror glimpsed something dark flickering around you after the Killing Curse struck you.’
Fleur stiffened. ‘There was a shadow before. When Harry returned. It spilt out of Hedwig.’
Gabby nodded. ‘Maybe. I only glimpsed it in the memory for an instant.’
Harry caught her eye. ‘How do you know this?’
‘And not Fleur?’ Gabby smiled. ‘Fleur designed a new pensieve, so she had to stay outside to make sure it was working properly and I had to go in.’
‘It’s still rough,’ Fleur said. ‘I’ve not even got permission to use it from Les Inconnus yet, but…’
Gabby nodded. ‘We’d get in a lot of trouble if our boss knew we’d done anything more than rudimentary tests.’ She grinned. ‘But it works, even if it’s very disorientating when you come out of it.’
‘Don’t get distracted, Gabrielle,’ Fleur chided.
‘Sorry.’ Gabby tapped her piece of paper. ‘Hedwig brought back the Elder Wand, so we assume you possessed her and took it from Voldemort as he died in the flames.’
She snatched it from my hand. Harry felt the ghost of the pain shiver through his palm and closed his eyes, watching black mist explode from his ebony wand, tearing through the quidditch pitch and hoops. My wand. Its heat burnt against his hand as he stood over Pettigrew’s corpse beneath the dark pines. I tore the horcrux out, but it took some of me with it.
‘Harry?’ Fleur shook his shoulders. ‘Are you okay? You… lost some time, there.’
He reached out and pulled his wand and the ring up on the slim silver chain around her neck. ‘A piece of me,’ he whispered.
But which is me? Ice trickled through his blood. Which one of two?
Fleur cupped his hands and the wand to her breast. ‘Horcrux.’
A soft gasp left Gabby’s lips. ‘Of course,’ she murmured. ‘You were anchored. Your shadow lingered and you came back to Fleur.’
Fleur rested her forehead on Harry’s. ‘Where else would he have gone but back to me? He is mine.’
A little shudder swept through Gabby. ‘But the sacrifice worked? Voldemort died.’
‘Because I didn’t know,’ he said. ‘I never knew it was a horcrux, I just thought the bond was strong…’
‘Now we know.’ Fleur kissed him on the cheek, one hand still clutching his wand to her chest. ‘Does that help, mon Cœur?’
‘Yes.’ Harry forced a smile.
No. He stared at the slim piece of ebony beneath Fleur’s fingers. One of us died. And I still don’t know which one it was. Harry closed his eyes. Was I betrayed in the bathroom, or saved beneath the summer sun?
‘Things will come back,’ Gabby said. ‘You feel a little less… different already.’
‘Time heals all wounds,’ Fleur murmured, sliding out of his lap. ‘But, mon Cœur, Gabby and I must go to work. Les Inconnus do require us to turn up every now and again so they know we’re doing our job and not just playing about with exciting pieces of magic.’
‘Les Inconnus?’ Harry grinned. ‘So you got your dream job.’
‘Until Gabby came and ruined it,’ Fleur teased. ‘I am Sarcelle, though, of course, you mustn’t let anyone know you know that.’
‘And I’m the much cuter Cramoisi,’ Gabby said. ‘Technically, we’re meant to be working on different things and the pensieve is Fleur’s project, but we work together, so she helps me with my enchantment weaving.’
‘Enchantment glue,’ Fleur said.
‘Weaving sounds better.’
‘But it feels like glue.’
Gabby pouted. ‘It’s my thing, I get to name it.’
Fleur laughed. ‘Fair enough, little chick.’ She cupped Harry’s cheek and pressed a kiss to his lips. ‘We won’t be gone long, will you be okay by yourself? Maman and Papa are away in Sicily.’
‘I’ll wander down to the willow.’ He smiled until Fleur’s expression softened. ‘See if anything comes back.’
‘No magic,’ she ordered. ‘Or I will make you sleep on the floor.’
Harry chuckled. ‘And lose your favourite pillow?’
‘No magic. Let yourself recover first.’
‘Au revoir.’ Gabby vanished with a little wave.
‘Promets-moi.’ Fleur held his gaze and took his hands in hers. ‘Promets-moi, mon Cœur.’
‘I won’t use magic unless it’s really important,’ he promised. ‘Happy?’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘I will be very angry if you hurt yourself trying to summon leaves without a wand or something stupid like that.’
He eased his hands free and held them up in surrender. ‘I won’t.’
‘Bon.’ Fleur kissed his cheek and disapparated.
But there’s something important. Harry glanced at Gabby’s rune-covered page and picked it up, turning it ’round with a frown. And I need to know. He dropped the page, catching sight of familiar handwriting beneath. Neville? What’s this?
Harry flicked through a stack of letters with a twist of unease in his gut. ‘Dear Mademoiselle Delacour, I hope this finds you well. Dear Mademoiselle Delacour, I’m unsure if my previous letter reached you. Dear Mademoiselle Delacour. Dear Mademoiselle Delacour. Dear Mademoiselle Delacour…’
I guess Fleur’s a pretty rubbish pen pal. He skimmed the rest of the letters and a soft warm glow suffused him. Or maybe she feels Neville doesn’t deserve to know anything.
‘Auror Captain Neville Longbottom?’ Harry raised his eyebrows at the signature. ‘I suppose they probably had some gaps in the ranks that needed filling, but it’s only been a year. What’s been going on in Britain if he’s an auror captain?’
He replaced the letters beneath Gabby’s sheet of runes and drifted through the hall, padding out across the warm stone of the patio, over the short grass, through the line of trees and into the long grass.
Dark birds swooped through the trees, cawing and hopping about in the branches.
Ravens. Inspiration struck like a flash of lightning through the night. The Animagus Transformation. Harry hurried through the grass and into the shade of the willow tree, his heart pounding in his chest. The animagus form is the most suitable for my soul. If I’m a raven, then I’m the boy who was saved beneath the summer sun.
He sat down among the white pebbles and pictured dark feathers sliding from beneath his skin and spreading through his hair. His magic writhed and swirled, slipping from his grasp. ‘Merde.’ Harry tried a single feather, twisting a tuft of hair into a long feather and fumbling around until his fingers found it. ‘This is going to take a while.’